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Across the United Kingdom there are nearly a million homes lying
unloved and unlived in, ready for someone to come along and give them a bright new future.
So whether it's a tired semi or a rambling mansion, we're on a mission to rescue Britain's empty homes.
When buying a property there's often no point in spending
extra for the previous owner's design ideas
when you can pick up an empty property for much less,
using the cash you've saved to put your very own stamp on it.
Today, I'm going to pass on my experience of buying and renovating an abandoned building to show
a couple of house hunters how they can inject character and style into a disused home to make it their own.
If I could take one thing into a country cottage, some sort of
contemporary feature, it would be like this, to make it completely open.
We join an empty property officer as they seek out at vacant dwellings and bring them back into use.
This one stands out in that the paint's peeling, the garden's overgrown, the windows are broken.
It screams empty home.
And we meet the renovators who are resuscitating houses after years of neglect.
It's like heart palpitations. It's like going to dance when you're 16 and getting the right girl.
You know, it's a tragedy that so many buildings in this country are left to rack and ruin
but for canny house buyers boarded-up windows and overgrown gardens can offer
a great opportunity, the chance to buy in your desired location at a much more affordable price.
Accounts manager Simon Wright and his flight attendant wife Sarah
would love to find a home in the countryside of Sussex or Kent, close to Sarah's work.
Married for nearly four years, they've spent that time living in the house that Simon bought for himself,
so there's another reason Sarah wants to move.
It's your house at the moment that we live in is so really buying our
own place together where I can put my mark on it as well.
Being closer to work and the country life are the main moving motivators
but there are a couple more things to consider.
We have two fur babies and we'd probably like some...
-Real ones too.
-And I think with the house that's slightly larger is
going to give us that opportunity and a good start for the children.
They'd love to buy into the rural dream and find
a character cottage in a village where they could walk their dogs.
Maybe a village pub or a small shop,
I think that would be absolutely ideal.
I think Sarah's got the ideas on the design front and I would say I'm more practical.
So I tell him what to do and he does it, basically.
But after a three-month search on their £190,000 budget, they've not find a home
so they're thinking a vacant property in need of improvement could be the affordable answer.
But with no experience of renovation, they need all the help they can get.
How much thought of you put into the idea of an empty property?
I think it's something we've both always wanted to do but
we thought it would be something a bit further into the future when we've got more money to spend on it.
That's kind of what we were thinking, we didn't really think that we'd be looking at that now.
-Well, let's have a think about the money, I mean how much do
you want to spend in total, including buying the property and doing it up?
I'd like to spend as little as possible,
Sarah would like...
I'd like to blow the budget.
-What is the budget that we might blow?
-It's not very highly really, is it?
You hold the purse strings so you tell them.
-The maximum is 190.
If we can find an empty home that we can make our own, I could buy it
at a slightly lesser price and then spend time and money doing it, we can make it how we want it to be.
Part of it, though, of course, is going to be about confidence and how confident you feel
in taking on what could well be a major project by the sounds of what we were talking about.
We need a little bit of help and guidance along the way because
we need to know what our limitations are and what we can actually achieve.
I'm in a position where I can possibly knock down some walls that Sarah tells me to do
so I guess we're at that point where we think, "Well, why not?"
You've certainly come to the right place to give you the right sort of inspiration for this endeavour
and I hope equip you with some tricks and tools of the trade to enable this
renovation, wherever it is, whatever it is, to go as smoothly as possible.
-That would be good.
To help Simon and Sarah get a sense of what their project may entail,
I'll be and introducing them to homeowners with bags of experience.
But first I want to get an idea of whether they have
a nose for the possibilities a disused dwelling may offer.
So without me there to guide them we're sending Simon and Sarah off
to view a good example of the sort of property they can afford if they go down the empty property route.
Buying an abandoned building isn't for everyone so I want
to show them what they can expect to find on their budget.
The picture perfect village of Ticehurst in Sussex is a location
to die for but Simon and Sarah can't afford a period home around here so
they'll have to consider something more modern without roses round the door like this 1980s two-bed semi.
I like it from the outside.
-I think it's tidy, it's got character.
-It's new but it's nice.
-It looks good.
-Previously the house had been rented out but for more than a year it stood empty.
Despite the owner dropping the price from 220 to £165,000, so far no-one's spotted its potential.
Straight into the porch, that's good.
They need to think what they could do with the space through
clever alterations, and not get hung up on easy fixes like the decor.
We can put artificial beams up to make it look inside a cottage feel.
Whether you wanted a wooden floor put down, it would give us then
some sort of country feel but it does feel really spacious, which I like.
I want Simon and Sarah to look out for every opportunity to put their mark on this house.
Plenty of storage space for clothes.
-Loft area up there.
I wonder if we could convert it, maybe an office space.
A conversion at around 30 grand would push them over budget and is unlikely to add enough value to the house.
For me their money would be much better spent downstairs.
-This is a good size, isn't it?
-It is, everything you want with the cupboards, the worktops.
That's quite good. You could knock this wall down. You could either have it
one complete long or open up slightly with an arch with a breakfast bar.
So you can sit on high stools.
Yes, and then maybe look at
-opening that completely up.
-You could have patio doors out into the back garden.
That would be the thing, whether you could take that out.
I'm talking about now a completely new design of that wall.
These two have some really ambitious ideas but do they have the confidence to carry them out?
It's a big job.
Hmm, that would be a very big job.
They seem a little scared but that's why I'm here to help.
Later, I caught up with Simon and Sarah to discuss their concerns.
So Ticehurst, talk me through it.
I get the feeling you were quite enchanted with that one.
We were, we loved the village, didn't we, the village was absolutely perfect.
It was exactly what we were looking for.
I love the way you talked about knocking things down
and putting things through and all the rest of it.
How much work would you be involved in there, Simon, do you think?
I think something like that is manageable for the both of us.
-Yes, because it was livable as it was.
Just remind me of how much it was.
It was 165.
So comfortably under your 190.
Yes, and that leaves a lot to play with.
Well, we had a word with a local builder who also had a look at it.
He reckons about 15,000 to do what you want to do to it.
That's not bad.
-I think that's really good.
-We're under a budget!
If you do a fair chunk of that it yourself, Simon, obviously it's not going to be for free, you've got
-materials and so forth, but you'd certainly knock a third off that.
-I'd be happy with that.
I think the key thing now is to arm you with some tools and tricks of the trade
and more inspiration and confidence to go forward and actually turn that into your dream home.
The next stage is to get you into some properties at very different ends of the renovation spectrum,
one of which is halfway through so you will see it bare bones and all, it's going to be
hard hats all the way on that one, and then we'll get you into a very interesting property that is
-now finished and again you can pick the brains of the owners and learn from them.
-That'd be great.
Unused buildings come in all shapes and sizes even if they've not been in residential use before.
With imagination, they can still be turned into amazing family homes.
This next property may be in another league in terms of Sarah and Simon's budget
but it's an example of how creative you can be with an empty space. When Henning Stumel
first saw this former industrial building in Paddington, west London, in 2006, it took real vision to spot
that it could eventually be an extraordinary conversion.
It was a wreck. There was an asbestos contamination we had to deal with initially.
There was a lot of structural work just to make sure that the building would retain its integrity.
So we had to rebuild one corner for instance
and sneak in little bits of extra steel, add an extra timber here and there.
Being an architect, he knew exactly what he wanted to achieve
with this 19th-century former Hackney carriage warehouse
after paying £1.3 million for it.
I certainly went out of my way to preserve as much of the structure as I possibly could.
In fact, these floorboards you see here, they were all
lifted up, taken somewhere, and did all the building works and they were put back down again.
When it comes to wiring, plumbing, plastering, everybody knows that's
going to happen at some point and you can put it in a schedule
but it's the bits, which as you take it apart and then you open it up and find a can of worms.
I think you mentally need to be prepared for that when you take on a project like this.
The reason we were interested in this project was it had a lot of floor space, which was important
because in London the shortcoming of little townhouses is always that you
just have a footprint, which is minimal and then you have it
stacked up four or five times, so we really understood that this was quite a unique opportunity.
The considerable renovation took 18 months and cost £450,000
but when it was finished, Henning was pleased with what he'd created.
It's like heart palpitations. It's like going to a dance when you are 16 and getting the right girl.
It's nice when it all sort of comes into place.
Having spent a total of £1.75 million on the building,
Henning now has an outstanding family home worth £3.5 million.
With housing in the UK in such high demand, it's a scandal that so many of our buildings are left simply
to decay when of course they could be turned into gorgeous family homes in the right hands.
The amount of waste that regenerates, well, it's unforgivable but the good news is that help is at hand.
The nation's empty property officers are hard at work trying to turn these
derelict buildings back into homes again.
Meet Andrew Vickers, he is the empty property officer
employed by Nottingham City Council, and he's charged with getting vacant buildings back into use.
Seeing any decent property, let alone historically, architecturally
pleasing one going to rack and ruin is a shame, it's a disgrace.
It's a waste of resources that has a huge impact on the environment.
Seeing derelict properties returned back into use as family homes, that's a goal
and it's very satisfying to the neighbours who've had to suffer the knock-on ripple effect of this
eyesore amongst their community.
It's quite satisfying.
A retired policeman with 30 years' experience pounding the streets of
the city, in the last two years alone he's successfully found new owners for more than 350 disused properties.
Personally, I particularly enjoyed tracking people down, tracking empty home owners down.
I pride myself on having a fairly high success rate in finding them.
I would say it's round about the 99% mark.
Andrew gets about 20 new cases each month but today he is responding to
a call from a worried neighbour about this 1930s detached house that's been empty for four years.
I've previously been in touch with the owner of this one
who claims that he was undergoing a divorce and the house was
the rope in a tug of war.
I would have thought that 12 months on that would've been resolved by now.
The property is reported to have a large number of foxes living in the garden.
From the front, it doesn't look too bad but the vine growing up the chimney is a dead giveaway.
It does look a mess inside, just abandoned.
Nothing much to see through there.
The first job for Andrew is to have a look around the back to assess the fox situation.
Hello, are you the lady that's called about the property next door being empty?
-Is it possible to get into the back of your garden to see into the state of this garden?
The neighbour's been living next door to this abandoned property for
four years now and in that time she's seen its garden turn into a jungle.
It's so dense you can't see in.
Andrew's sleuthing skills have spotted a breakthrough already.
-There is an obvious entry to foxes down here.
The owners of this house may not be too worried about it
but the foxes have certainly made themselves at home.
I don't know if there's a fox's home so to speak. They live in
holes in the ground, basically, that they excavate, typically in
neglected areas like this or under rockeries and sheds and that sort of thing.
I think they've got house in there.
Yes, they have.
The location of the foxes' den offers them easy access to the neighbour's
garden and even her house. It's potentially dangerous.
In light of recent events in London where people are perhaps a bit panicky about foxes nowadays,
I think she's justifiably concerned about the pests
that are inhabiting the empty home next door.
This footage shot from the neighbour's roof shows just how bad the fox problem is.
Unfortunately for them, they're about to come up against the ex-long arm of the law.
You don't want to leave that window open because they can get in
and of course they carry fleas and lord knows what else.
He wastes no time in contacting the council's pest control agency.
It's Andrew Vickers. Can I refer you to service request 253023?
Andrew needs the house lived in again, as soon as the foxes have been moved on.
I've got to get back to that registered owner to see what
the state of play is and try and progress this.
My ultimate goal is to get the house back into occupation, get it looked after, but along the way my more
pressing issues are the problems that that very concerned neighbour's got with the pests next door.
Simon and Sarah Wright are hoping to move to a village in Sussex or Kent closer to Sarah's work.
They've seen an empty property cheap enough to get them into their dream
location without blowing their tight £190,000 budget.
Now to show them just how ambitious you can be,
I'm introducing them to a homeowner who's already taken the plunge.
Now, guys, any idea what this might have been originally?
Well, by looking next door I thought it would have been something quite small.
Go on, John, tell them.
It used to be a 1960s bungalow.
John Compton works in the film industry and certainly needed to draw on all his creative energy
when he spotted this rundown retiree's two-bed bungalow, which was on the market for £225,000.
It had been empty for almost a year after the previous owner moved into a care home.
When I saw the bungalow here it was just crying out to be developed and made into something pretty
as well as it's a good opportunity for me to put my mark and have something that
one can be proud of.
John is halfway through transforming it, radically changing the layout on
the ground floor and adding a first floor to create a four-bedroom house.
Look at this, wow.
-You've just gutted it, haven't you, completely?
-This is it.
Call me old-fashioned but weren't you just tempted to start again and knock
the whole thing down, given that you've built a complete new storey above?
Yes, but it wasn't too bad. I mean rather than build one level up,
it's there so just take the internal walls out and then the timber frame can then sit on top.
Adding a timber frame first floor has allowed John to transform the
property quickly and for less cost than a brick-built structure.
And the advantage here I guess, John, it just goes up so much quicker.
That's right. Basically, once we'd put the platform down, this was up in a matter of about three days.
Is your partner involved in this or is it a case that this is just
simply your design, because I would be worried if Sarah and I would be
that's the bedroom, that's the bathroom and there'd be so many crossovers between us.
At the moment, luckily it's just me but I have
done a lot of it and the guy that does the timber frame, he helped me a little bit with the top plans.
But it's an important point, though, actually, I think, if you could involve your contractors
as much as possible in your ambition and your passion for the build, actually that does transmit through
the whole team and I think you do get a better job at the end of it.
That's right. If you've got a good team of builders, they'll actually save you money in the long run.
-Now just give us a sense of costs here.
-It's actually 100.
-Yes, but that is up until
-getting it completely finished.
-That's completely with fixtures and fittings?
Fixtures, fittings, your bathroom, a kitchen, all of the appliances.
-Landscaping the garden?
-Gardens and the front.
I think that is fantastically good value for money.
Have you always have that in mind, though, when you first started it?
-You'd got in mind how it's going to look when it's
actually finished because for us I wouldn't know where to start.
The first thought was about the house, as in the external looks
and then we went internal and then fit the other bits in around it.
With something like this, you can actually make it to your design, and that you're happy with it.
-Are you feeling inspired, Sarah?
-I am, definitely, I want to do it.
I might need to take you out for a drink.
I feel a bit high, I think!
-Is the heat getting to you?
Once John's finished the build his total costs will be around £325,000
for a stunning home on a street where similar properties sell for 450,000.
It looks like taking on an empty house will definitely pay off.
Well, this building site is going to be John's garden when eventually he's
got it finished, he says in a month's time.
One thing I've really enjoyed, though, about showing this place
to Simon and Sarah is that I think they really lit up.
I think they perhaps were a bit daunted when we first got here but
Sarah certainly has been really inspired by what we've seen up there an it really is quite an
ambitious build, and who knows, maybe that renovation in Ticehurst isn't big enough for them.
Later, I'll be taking Simon and Sarah to meet another pair of renovators
to show them how, with a bit of inspiration, you can be just as clever with the interior.
But first back in Nottingham. Empty property officer Andrew Vickers
is following up one of his ongoing cases.
Today, I'm going to revisit a property that's been empty for a number of years.
It was by an old lady who unfortunately died and then the
house was resold over a year ago, and I was hopeful that the property was going to come back into use.
Standing empty for more than six years, the house was bought in 2009
with the new owner intending to convert it into flats.
But so far no work has been carried out
and Andrew has served an enforcement notice on the owner to improve the appearance of the house's exterior.
The notice I've served stipulated to cut back the foliage because this creates a screen
for offenders to hide behind as well is looking unsightly and overgrown,
and to improve the facade and paint up the flaking paintwork
and make it look lived in at least even if it's not, and specifically to repair that window at the top.
This house is owned by a local professional footballer
so it just shows that people from all walks of life leave places vacant.
But as it's been burgled on numerous occasions, Andrew needs to investigate whether it's now secure.
This window's broken, I hadn't noticed that on my previous visit
and I see there are some obvious leverage points at the side there where somebody has had a screwdriver
in and tried to lever that open and has cracked the glass but
I think it's holding for now although it's not
ever so safe.
This one stands out in that the paint is peeling, the garden's overgrown, the windows are broken.
It screams empty home at passers-by.
In recent months, the house has attracted antisocial behaviour
and this is cause for concern for the next-door neighbour.
I think the worst thing about it is the sense of insecurity that you have.
You know your own property is well looked after and locked but this property
looks empty, looks deserted, and you worry about people breaking into it.
Andrew needs to investigate further at the rear of the house.
Have you seen any gardeners or any activity from the owner?
No, nothing at all. If this property is brought back into life again, it means that we'd have some neighbours
that we can talk to for once rather than looking out at this ghastly facade that's there at the moment.
It's clear with one month left to comply with the enforcement notice Andrew served to improve
the appearance of the house, the owner has done nothing.
If they fail to act, it could result in the council taking them to court.
The bottom line is compulsory purchase.
If the owner's not going to do something with it
to bring it back into use, the council will take it from them and sell it on to someone who will.
But since the council's visit, the owner has carried out repairs
and submitted plans for a full renovation.
Now if you're thinking of taking on an empty or derelict property,
it's worth considering some of the financial aid packages that could be available to you.
Local authorities can often provide renovation grants and if you're building is of historic significance,
you can always have a chat to English Heritage and bodies like them.
But then of course there's also the green grant. If your new scheme involves something that is
ecologically sound and sensitive, there may be money available just for you.
Sarah and Simon Wright loved the location of this empty two-bed semi in Ticehurst, East Sussex,
but were lacking in confidence when it came to the renovation needed.
-A big job.
I've already shown them how you can add character to a dull exterior,
now I want to show them how a tired, uninspiring interior can be changed beyond belief.
What have we got for you? I think a very interesting property that I hope will give you lots of ideas.
What they've done to this place, I think you could do to yours.
-OK, sounds interesting.
-Knocked down some walls.
You are going to knock down some walls, you're going to add some doors.
It did look a bit tired and a bit dated when they bought it but it doesn't look like that now.
Come and have a look.
Polly Faber and Andy Riley were looking for a house that they could turn into
a perfect family home to share with their two children, Bill and Eddie.
They hadn't planned on buying an empty property until they spotted this 1930s terrace.
It was obvious to me that the floor space was good and the light and all the essentials,
the bones of the house were good if you like and we could update it in a way that would make it our own.
She had lots of ideas for what to do with it and they seemed all right to me and I took that on trust.
Polly and Andy have transformed the former three-bed terrace into a contemporary five bed home.
It's got breathtaking open plan kitchen/living space
with a roof that defies gravity flowing out into the garden.
-What do you think?
Where did you get the idea for this huge open plan space?
It wasn't my idea.
Polly, where did you get the idea from?
I just wanted a space that would work for all of us for now and for the future as well,
and we do live in a slightly different way from the way people used to live in the 1930s.
We don't tend to want a formal dining room.
Well, this is the sort of thing that would suit you down to the ground, isn't it?
Oh, yes, definitely.
This may be a much bigger project than Simon and Sarah might manage at
Ticehurst but they should take away plenty of ideas.
On the extension there's no pillar on the corner so there's a huge cantilevered girder that weighs
six tonnes across there,
and these things slide around over there so you can kind of enclose or not enclose as you like.
Polly, was this your creation, did you have an architect?
We had an architect and I have to give him due credit that
he came up with the idea of the cantilever-built corner.
I just said to him I wanted a big open plan space that brought the inside
to the outside and vice versa that we could use.
Well, what do you think, guys? I think this is the sort of thing you could think about.
-I think one of the points of this is that
exactly the same slate that we've got inside the kitchen is also on the patio.
I think it works a treat actually. In terms of style, is this the sort of thing you'd go for?
This would be amazing, and if I could take one thing something like this into a country cottage,
some sort of contemporary feature, it will be like this, to make it completely open.
Yes, but I love the little touches - the swing is terrific, it's great fun.
It's great, and it's nice you can sit on the edge of the sofa and push them and read the paper.
I go on it quite a lot when I get home from work.
It's the nicest seat in the kitchen.
Polly and Andy spent £280,000 on their renovation and I hope it's given our house hunters
the self-belief they need to tackle the transformation of their own empty home.
How do you feel now, having seen two projects full of people that I hope of giving you a bit more confidence?
Confidence and inspiration I think is the key.
Seeing this house here, the second house, what they've done,
I think that certainly opened my mind to knock some walls down, if that's all right with Sarah.
-Yes, you just need some advice and some help along the way.
-So what happens next?
-I get my chequebook out.
I think we both like to take the Ticehurst option further.
We'd like to go for that house, possibly, if we still can, but
if not that house then certainly the area, I know for myself was amazing.
-Yes, we loved the area.
-Good, so if nothing else we've put you in the right place.
Definitely. You found exactly what we were looking for area wise.
And I think we've introduced you to the idea that taking on something that needs a bit
of love and attention would be the way to go to get you what you want.
I have to say that I've been really impressed with Simon and Sarah.
They're imaginative, they're open-minded, and above all else
they've got a terrific sense of fun, all the qualities they'll need in taking on a renovation of
their own and personally, I think they'll make a great success of it.
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